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Helena Hirata
Gender and International Labour Relations

* [GEDISST-CNRS, Groupe d’Etudes sur la Division Sociale et Sexuelle du Travail, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France.]

Globalisation is connected with phenomena such as the progressive interdependence among national markets, the expansion of international trade, technological advances in the field of information, the creation of regional markets and a new outlook concerning the expansion of multinational companies. In various countries it is also associated with increased privatisation schemes and subcontracting.

The economic changes and the intensification of international exchanges have increased women’s participation in the labour market, both in the formal and informal sectors of economic life as well as in the service sector. However, this increased participation translates mainly into precarious and vulnerable jobs, as has been the case in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

All over the world, even in the countries that have signed the regulatory conventions of the ILO, salaries are going through a process of manifest deterioration. Unemployment is on the rise affecting women more than men. In the South, there is an obvious increase of the number of people working in the informal sector, while in the North, the States promote part-time activities. In both cases, the resulting jobs are of a precarious nature, poorly paid and offer no possibilities of promotion.

The world is going through the constitution of a flexible labour market in which women play a strategic role due to their incorporation into paid labour and their propensity to work in the informal sector. However, both for men and women, the possibilities of holding a stable job are constantly decreasing.

It is of utmost importance to develop and take alternative measures in order to counteract the vulnerability of female labour. It is necessary, for instance, to start a survey of the current social relations between the genders in order to establish a basis for trade union political structures. Activities such as solidarity actions between workers of companies, their clients and subcontracted workers should be developed. The current balance of power has to be analysed in order to solve the issues related to female labour.

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Dr. Gisela Notz
"Gender in Trade Union Work"
The Globalisation or Feminisation of Work

The economic world policy known as "globalisation" has made the market economy become so international that all over the world one could speak of a general deterioration of work and living conditions for the working classes. This is all mainly due to the development of subcontracting various production steps to foreign small and medium sized enterprises. By doing this, the transnational companies can count on cheap labour which translates into higher benefits for the company.

The following consequences of this type of production organisation in different countries can be considered as the most obvious: the weakening of trade union organisations; an increased competition between men and women, the young and the older, the national and alien workers; total and partial shut downs of factories with the resulting laying off of thousands of workers; a decrease in exports and a limited competition capacity at international level; the depredation of natural resources; and the devaluation of skilled labour.

This world economic strategy generates new demands from the trade union organisations because women workers are becoming an easy prey in the labour market and its growing work availability. This is due to the fact that women tend to work in simple jobs that offer low pay, that they lack organisation and prefer to do work at home, that they are prone to being exploited because of typically female characteristics such as having to take care of the children, being in charge of the family and taking leaves-of-absence because of pregnancies. All of this has led women to accept jobs under very precarious conditions without any protection nor social security services. This tendency is so universal that the United Nations Organisation already describes this phenomenon as the "feminisation" of labour in the context of globalisation.

The world entrepreneurial apparatus has generated in this manner many more men and women workers who have become victims of an intense exploitation and are forced into an unforgiving competition among themselves. This creates workers, who sometimes feel compelled to work part-time, which only worsens the working conditions of the economically active population.

What the world needs are effective concessions all over in order to reduce the working time, achieve a fair distribution of paid jobs between men and women, attain equality of opportunities and distribute the riches of the most affluent regions in favour of the less privileged.

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Jane Tate
HomeNet – Organising Homebased Women Workers

HomeNet is a net that was created in 1994 in order to organise people working in the informal sectors and those who work at home on their own account or subcontracted all over the world.

It has specialised mainly in the protection of women’s rights because they are the great majority of those working at home in order to make some extra money or to generate a certain income.

They have done very important organisational work in cases like the street vendors in South Africa and homebased workers in Thailand, Japan, India, the Philippines, Great Britain, Portugal and Australia.

Their main interest is that there is no protection whatsoever for millions of workers in the informal sector all over the world. The majority of them are women who are part of an economic sector that is neither recognised by the employers those who own the means of production nor by the states. These workers have no protection at all and are excluded from whatever minimum benefit the other workers in the organised labour sectors might have.

This problem has become much more serious in the last decade due to the unexpected increase of the mass of people working at home or in the informal sector as a result of the deterioration of the living conditions in many countries and also due to the goal of the enterprises of finding cheap labour without any legal vinculations. These workers receive salaries which are much lower than the country’s legal minimum salaries. They all lack legal protection, do not have trade union representation and are excluded from social security and other services.

HomeNet has member organisations such as SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) in India, the SEWU (Self Employed Women’s Union) in South Africa, a national net in Thailand which have achieved important success when it comes to the protection and support of informal and homebased workers. These achievements have served as an example for the development of similar initiatives in other parts of the world.

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Dr. Barbara Stiegler
Gender-appropriate Trade Union Activities –
the Example of Bargaining Policy

All over the world, pay discrimination affects mainly women. During the Federal Women’s Conference of the German Trade Union Confederation a campaign was launched in order to re-evaluate women’s work and to pursue a salary policy that would offer equal opportunities.

The issue of women’s salaries has been historically ignored and even presently, the laws that should rule out pay discrimination are not taken under consideration when it comes to the trade unions establishing clear policies concerning salaries.

The fact that men still receive a remuneration which is at least one and a half times higher than women’s shows the obvious imbalance of power that exists between the men and women trade union affiliates, and between the trade unions and the employers. In the case of women, the main issue is to achieve a reduction of the abysmal differences that exist between the different high and lower salary classifications.

The existing policies that rule the various salary categories do not really take under consideration activities such as homebased work or not paid work. These two aspects must be specifically treated when discussing this issue.

At the same time, solidarious remuneration structures should be developed in order to ensure that the basic salary of those groups in the lower salary levels is enough to cover the basic needs of every person.

The necessary reforms in order to achieve fairer salary levels could be possible if they are based on the acknowledgement of the worker’s skills, know-how and professional training. However, the evaluation criteria for both men and women has to change.

Generally speaking, the improvements in the lower salary levels usually have the effect of re-establishing the existing gaps to higher levels, either because the result is a bigger difference between the categories or because the difference between the men’s categories becomes wider. This leads to the assumption that there is a lack of true political good will in order to achieve equality of pay between men and women.

The demands towards higher pay in the different salary categories in order to achieve equal pay between the genders cannot be concentrated on the groups where there is a majority of men. Furthermore, they must demand equality of pay in the different branches of production.

The issue of women’s pay discrimination has been discussed in many agendas of trade union organisations, but up to now, it has not been identified as an integral part of women’s discrimination. This approach should be promoted and included as a central issue in all agendas in order for it to receive the attention that it deserves.

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Maria Berenice Godinho Delgado
Affirmative Action in the Trade Union Movement –
Its experience concerning the quota system in the Central Unica dos Trabalhadores – CUT – Brazil

The Central Workers’ Organisation was created in Brazil in 1983, and at the moment is the most representative trade union organisation in the country. It represents approximately 2.570 organisations and more than six million affiliated workers spread all over the national territory.

The Organisation of Working Women developed at the same time as the CUT, and in 1986 it established the National Committee of the Working Women; one of the most long lasting trade union women’s associations in Latin America, which started with a progressive vision and as a clear opposition to the powers of the State and the entrepreneurs following the principles of the nuevo sindicalismo in Brazil.

This Committee is responsible for launching for the first time the debate of women’s representation in the directive boards of the CUT (this debate was called "The Quota Debate") following the example of discussions and experiences of the women affiliated to the Partido dos Trabalhadores where they had already achieved a 30% minimum quota of representation. This issue was presented to the directive board of the CUT during the Second National Meeting of the Working Women in 1991.

In 1993, during the sixth National Plenary of the CUT the quota system was approved following a difficult and important debate that had incredible consequences in connection with women’s participation in the trade unions and gender relations. Never before had a question been treated in such a serious, profound and extensive manner by all of those involved.

The debate and approval of the quota system demanded a very extensive and complete preparation of the women workers who strengthened their arguments during two years in meetings and discussions with important personalities of the CUT and other trade unions. They organised debating rounds in different parts of the country, prepared didactic materials to show the proposals concerning the quota and dispersed their positions and those of the CUT’s directive body as widely as possible among the affiliates in the different provinces.

The quota concerning the representation of women in the CUT’s directive bodies was approved with a minimum of 30% and a maximum of 70% of each gender, "as an initial measure to build up equal political relations", according to the summary of the Plenaries.

This measure has had very important repercussions in Brazil’s political and social life. Nowadays, the political parties must present a minimum of 25% women candidates for elections in 1998 and a minimum of 30% as of the year 2000. In some trade unions reforms that follow this example have already been introduced and, generally speaking, there are better options for women’s participation at power and decision-making levels.

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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2001

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